Hello there! That's right, chapter three is done. As usual, lie to me about how good it is, and leave any criticisms in the comments. Thanks for reading, as this is the longest chapter yet (2,973 words) so enjoy!
Oh, and I’ve retconned Aiden’s sword. I know I said it was ebony, but I’m changing it to an elven sword. There is a reason, but I’m not saying yet
“He is my son!” Queen dowager Laurelle was practically screaming.
“He is High King! And he will need to start acting like it or the Covenant falls into chaos!” bellowed King Robert, who had remained in Wayrest after the coronation to assist his nephew, despite Queen Elwyth returning to Rivenspire. The two glared at each other, Robert’s blue eyes glinted from beneath his thick, dark brow.
“Both of you sit down.” King Lystair had entered the council chamber. “Now,” he added. They did as they were told.
“You’re late, father.” Queen Laurelle glared at her father.
“No, I am not. I arrived when I intended to; I have no intention of waking up at the break of dawn to come to a meeting that cannot happen without me.”
“I think you overestimate yourself, your majesty,” King Robert interrupted. “this meeting is perfectly possible without you; we’ve been having it for the last forty minutes without you.”
Lystair didn’t even look up from the papers he was reading. “Not very effectively it seems. I come into you and my daughter, the two most powerful people at this table spatting at each other.” He looked up and saw Aiden standing in the corner.
“Sir Aiden, what are you doing here? This room is for the High Council only, of which the only member of the Lion Guard permitted is the Lord Commander, who is present,” gesturing to Lord Commander Lionheart sat upright yet relaxed in his council chair.
“High King Ecbert kept me in the chamber, your Majesty. Why I cannot say.” Aiden replied, careful of what he said.
There was a moment of awkward pause. “High King Ecbert often found Sir Aiden’s opinion as a native to Hammerfell useful,” Lord Madlok Gro-Orsinium, the Orsinium diplomat finally responded. “Your majesty,” he added hastily.
“Is that not Lord Rathirys’ job?” King Lystair turned to the Hammerfell chief diplomat, clearly getting impatient.
“Of course, your Majesty.” Aiden stepped forwards, eager to avoid more of the Council meeting. “I shall leave if it pleases you.”
“It does.” Lystair said bluntly. “Though we do require the High King,” Lystair held up his hand to stop his daughter from objecting. “Go and fetch him for us.”
“Yes, your Majesty.” At least he was being honest, Aiden thought as he was closing the door behind him. He sighed as he walked down the steps of the tower in which the Council chamber was located. It was the highest point in the city, a deliberate design choice to give the High Council a view of the entire of Wayrest, a way to observe those they ruled and keep them in line. The King’s tower was the second highest tower, and housed the entire royal family’s chambers, plus additional guest rooms for visiting Kings and Queens from the other High Rock kingdoms.
As Aiden strolled through the castle, he gradually became aware of the lack of Lion Guards he had seen in the corridors. There was normally at least a dozen Guard on patrol in this section of the Castle alone, as well as two at the door to every important room. Yet now, as he followed the blue and gold carpet through the ornately engraved stone walls, there was not a single other soul near him. As he was about to enter the King’s tower, he stopped and moved his hand to Tam’molag, his sword.
“It isn’t wise to sneak up on a member of the Lion Guard when he is his way to the king,” he said, turning to face his stalker. “Did you think I wouldn’t notice you were following me?”
“Actually, I was counting on it,” his stalker was a girl, no older than twelve, scrawny and dressed in the brown and dirty white of a kitchen worker. “Az says to meet him in the Cloudy Dregs Inn once you’re free.” Before Aiden could say anything, she had run off, leaving Aiden with even more of a headache than the one he already had.
Once he had escorted Alfred to the Council Chamber, he went to the barracks, changed out of his uniform and headed to the Cloudy Dregs. A large, loud tavern, it was one of Az’s favoured meeting points for his informants. Its openness and large people presence made it almost impossible for someone to die inside the walls. ‘People often overlook the value of a public place for a secret meeting’, Az had claimed far too often. ‘Forget dark alleys and abandoned buildings, hide in plain sight and no-one suspects a thing.’ He was right, of course, the Dregs had been a meeting point and dead drop location for the High King’s espionage network for decades and, as part of that network, Az naturally used meetings there as an excuse to drink cheap ale. Aiden went in through the back and sat at the usual table: upstairs, out of the way to speak privately, yet not hidden to avoid suspicion. After roughly a minute, Az came and sat opposite him.
“What was so urgent you got a kitchen girl to follow me across the bloody castle?” Aiden asked. “Another broken-hearted girl tracked you down?” he chuckled to himself and shook his head.
“Aiden look at me.” He did. “This is serious,” Aided nodded, slightly shocked by friend’s manner. Az sighed. “Several of my informants noticed some new mercs in town. Held themselves like Fighter’s Guild, fought like the Guild, but didn’t dress like them.”
“I think so. Question is, who hires a load of old Fighter’s Guild members to come to Wayrest but not fight anyone? I went looking. Found this bastard.” Then, to two of his men, “bring ‘im ‘ere.”
The ‘man’ in question was a Bosmer, and although tall for a wood elf, was shorter than all four of the men surrounding him. Az ordered he be seated, then that his agents leave.
The elf was terrified. “P…please don’t hurt me… I haven’t… haven’t done anything wrong, I swear it!”
Aiden took a sip from his goblet, then drew a dagger from his belt with such speed the Bosmer didn’t have time to blink, only give a small cry when the metal pressed against his leg. “My friend here says you were hired to come to Wayrest. Who by?” Aiden asked
“I don’t know! My superior just told us we were to go to Wayrest and lie low, wait for further orders once we got here! We break up a bar brawl in Dreughside and then I’m dragged here!”
Az leaned forward and looked into the Bosmer’s eyes. “You’re lying,” he said, and a small orb of shadow flowed from his right hand into the Bosmer’s mouth and through his head, turning the entirety of his eyes black. Az’s eyes did the same, and Aiden sat back and waited for his friend to finish the spell. After a few seconds, the shadows emerged from the Bosmer’s ears, and flowed back into Az’s hand, returning them both to normal. The Bosmer sat there shaking, few had the fortitude to resist Az’s shadow magic, but he’d be fine in an hour or so.
“Now will ya tell us who ‘ired you?” asked Aiden. Whilst useful, such powerful magic left Az drained.
“His name is Lord Gallio Manchara! Some merchant from Cyrodill! That’s all I know, I swear!” the Bosmer was almost screaming in fear.
Aiden leaned back in his chair and finished his drink. “Thank you, Az. I think it’s time I visited Lord Gallio.”
“Don’t mention it,” replied the Redguard, “you have your job, I ‘ave mine.”
Lord Gallio’s manor was deceptively large. On the outside, it had hardly seemed like a manor, yet once inside, Aiden realised the vestibule alone would take up half the house if it was as small as it had seemed. He refused to sit in one of the many chairs lining the walls. They were all identical, made of the same red cloth and all cushioned, as not to upset the more esteemed portion of Manchara’s guests. Aiden preferred to stand. Sit, and you have to account for the few milliseconds it takes to stand back up should you be attacked. Milliseconds that cost many their lives. After twenty minutes, a short, fat Imperial appeared at the top of the stairs leading from the vestibule to the rest of the manor.
“Lord Gallio will now see you in his study, Sir Aiden,” he hadn’t even bothered to come down the stairs, and didn’t wait for a reply either, instead turning straight back round and walking off, Aiden followed. At the top of the stairs, aligned perfectly to be in line with the centre of them, was a large wooden door, the word ‘study’ engraved into it. Aiden knocked.
“Enter,” spoke a sharp voice on the other side. Aiden opened the door and went inside.
Lord Gallio Manchara was a tall man, Aiden reckoned almost as tall as an Altmer. He was thin like one also, and had a narrow jaw not typically found on Imperials, though he had the darker skin tone and complexion of a member of the Heartland race. His head was bald, though he had a delicately groomed moustache, that curled and wound around itself countless times, as well as an equally strangely designed goatee. He sat, nearly hunched over, in an elaborate chair, made from similar velvet to the ones downstairs, yet far larger and clearly more expensive; a boast of wealth and arrogance.
“Ah, Sir Aiden! A pleasure, a pleasure,” the elongation of his words betrayed the dishonesty behind his words. “Come in, sit down, have a drink! Tell me, to what do I owe the pleasure of having a member of the Lion Guard under my roof?”
Aiden did not sit. “You are aware the Lion Guard deal with all threats to the High King’s security aren’t you, Lord Gallio?”
“Yes, of course! Do you need my assistance with a security matter? It would be an honour to assist you!” Lying. Again.
Aiden sighed. “No, Lord Gallio. That will not be necessary. You can, however, tell me why you hired mercenaries to infiltrate the city and ‘await further orders.’”
The Imperial paled and began to stutter and stammer. “I… I…”
“You what!?” shouted Aiden, getting impatient at the merchant. He didn’t have time to deal with fools like this.
“I… I… I was paid to hire them, by a member of court.” He paused to regain his composure. “They said when the time was right, I, along with several others, would order the men I hired to launch a coup against…”
But before he could finish, an arrow whirled past Sir Aiden and pierced his neck, leaving him to only gargle blood. Aiden turned to see the shooter but only saw them leap through a window on the street below. Aiden raced down to the street to find a Redguard in a hood and cloak lying on the ground, several of his bones, including both his legs, clearly broken and a bow lying on the ground next to him.
“Tell me who sent you,” Aiden growled at the assassin.
The man only gargled as a mix of white foam and blood emerged from his mouth. Poison.
That night, Aiden was sat in the barracks when the Lord Commander summoned him into his office. A small, tidy room, Cerul Lionheart liked to keep his office as pristine as possible, to set an example for his men and women to follow. The older man looked tired, his brown hair was looser than normal, and there were large bags under his green eyes. He even seemed to be a little shorter than normal.
“Thank you, Sir Aiden, please sit.” He really was tired if he was asking Aiden to be seated. “I understand you were there when Manchara was killed.”
“Yes, Lord Commander, I…”
“Stop that,” ordered the Lord Commander, sighing his words out
“Stop what, Lord Commander?”
But he had barely finished when the Lord Commander answered. “That! Calling me Lord Commander constantly! I don’t call you Knight Captain Aiden, I call you Sir Aiden, or Aiden! I know you and I have our differences, but for the love of the gods, Aiden, you don’t have to formal all the fucking time!” Cerul rested his head in his hands and let out an exasperated sigh. “I’m sorry Aiden. This whole thing has just been a fucking nightmare. Manchara didn’t tell you who the coup was against, yet given how many mercs his papers say he hired, alongside some other documents, it seems a lot of people are unhappy having a boy on the throne with his doting mother as regent.”
“So, we’re dealing with a coup against the Queen Regent?”
The Lord Commander had calmed down slightly. “Possibly, and since Alfred might be in danger, Laurelle has demanded we at least double the size of the Lion Guard, which I refuse to do. I am not returning to what we were, ever. We are the Shields of the King, not a pack of common guardsmen.”
“What do we do then? You’re in charge of the Lion Guard, and we oversee the High King’s security.”
“I am aware of my job. I have,” he paused, “requested assistance from the Council. King Robert will be summoning several of his pledged houses, as well as his own men, to aid in protecting Alfred. Lystair, as protective of his dynasty as ever, has summoned half of Daggerfall’s forces, claiming if anyone wishes to harm his grandson, they are welcome to try, to which Laurelle almost combusted over. I want you to go and speak to King Robert, we are in charge of this extra security, and you are my second in command in this, Sir Aiden. I expect you to act like it.”
“Of course, Cerul.”
“No. You were right, stick with Lord Commander.”
Aiden smiled and shook his head as he walked out. “Yes, Lord Commander.”
King Robert was not a man suited for court. Easily angered, predictable and as subtle as an army of giants, he was designed for battle. Bigger than any other Breton Aiden knew, skilled with both his greatsword and powerful destruction magic, Robert had been in and out of Cyrodiil for ten years, joining the armies as soon as he was of age, before his return to High Rock and marriage to Elwyth roughly eight years ago. The thirty-five year old was sat in his chair in the council chamber when Aiden entered.
“Why here?” Aiden asked the big man as he sat in the chair opposite him. The chairs were all almost identical, with the exception of the High King’s chair. Large, wooden and ornately engraved. The only difference was the sigil and writing engraved on the backs of each chair, detailing who each chair was for.
“Because, this is the safest room in the Castle. One entrance, one exit. Nowhere for spies to hide. When Emeric commissioned the construction of this place, he knew what he wanted, and made sure he got it,” Robert explained. “Now to business. Mercenaries, we don’t know how many, have been hired to sneak into the city to pose as commoners. Then, upon being given the order, launch a coup against an as-current unknown person. It is likely the Queen Regent and Alfred, though we cannot be sure.”
“Why them though? The Cumberland Dynasty has been good for High Rock, for the Covenant.” Aiden replied. He wasn’t wrong. The Covenant may have been formed from desperation and a need to restore trade routes, yet it had grown into one of the mightiest forces in Tamriel’s history.
“From what I have gathered, many of the people mentioned are veterans. Soldiers who want a ruler who understands what they have gone through, how horrific it truly is in Cyrodiil. For all Laurelle’s strengths, she has no idea what it’s like over there. You know, I know, but she doesn’t. In times of peace, she would be an exceptional ruler, but this is not a time if peace.”
“Are you sure you know who’s side you are on, your majesty?” joked Aiden
“Of course I do!” said Robert, a grin showing through his thick, dark beard. “Laurelle may not know, but much of the council does, so we will guide her, that is our job.”
“Lord Commander Lionheart has sent a courier to Lion Guard redoubt, ordering as many non-essential men be sent to the city. They will arrive in a few weeks, at least one. Two and a half if they move slowly. How long can your men get here?”
“Well, I sent a bird this afternoon, a courier would take too long. The message will reach them at the latest by tomorrow evening, then the forces will need to prepare themselves, and it takes a few weeks to get here from Rivenspire. I’d say three and half to four weeks if we’re lucky.”
“Shit, that’s a long time for us to be waiting.”
“I know. The upside is we can investigate whilst we wait, and Lystair’s men will be here much sooner. He’s having them transported across the Bay. But for know there is little we can do. You are dismissed Sir Aiden, though I shall see you tomorrow at the Council meeting. You are in charge of this issue, Sir Aiden, the council is willing to give you a temporary seat.”
“Thank you, your majesty. Goodnight.” Aiden stood up from his chair and headed towards the door.
“Oh, and, Sir Aiden,” Robert called to him just before he opened the door.
“Yes, your majesty,” Aiden turned around confused.
“You are dealing with the court of High Rock. This is not a game. This is not a battle. This is politics, Sir Aiden. Trust no one.”